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Thursday, March 12, 2015

US and Russia discuss Syrian settlement as US program to arm moderates in tatters

Russian and U.S. officials have had new talks on finding a political solution to the Syrian civil war and a unified battle against the Islamic State in Syria. However, it is not clear how serious the discussions are.
Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that he had talked to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on the issues. Kerry said that in discussing Syria they talked "about steps that might be..taken to try to see if there is common ground". He also said that “one of the things that drives that interest . . . is the reality of what is happening to Syria as a result of the presence of Daash there and its use of Syria as a base for spreading its evil to other places.” Daash is the Arabic term for the Islamic State. However, in the following days he also spoke about stepping up "military pressure" on the Assad regime once the Islamic State is defeated. The US aim still appears to be regime change in Syria although the first priority is to attack the Islamic State in Syria. Not only will many rebel groups not be interested in peace talks, Assad may not be either as the number of moderate groups arrayed against him are shrinking and also the Islamic State is being attacked by all sides.
Kerry said that military pressure on the Assad regime would probably be required to obtain a political solution:“Military pressure particularly may be necessary, given President Assad’s unwillingness to negotiate seriously. And what we must do is strengthen the capacity for this political solution.”
The last peace talks on Syria sponsored by the US and Russia in Geneva in February 2014 broke down. One reason for the breakup was Assad's insistence that fighting terrorism must be the top priority while the opposition wanted to focus on a transitional government that would exclude Assad. Now there is more of a focus by the US as well on the terrorism associated with the Islamic State. However, rebels are still mostly concerned with ousting Assad. Even last week in Aleppo rebel groups rejected a UN proposal to freeze fighting in Aleppo, a city divided between government held areas and areas held by the opposition. Russia has scheduled a meeting with Syrian opposition leaders in April.
The covert CIA operation to arm "moderate" Syrian rebels has been undermined by the dissolution of the Hazzm movement with their base being taken over by the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front. Much US provided equipment and weapons in a warehouse on the base was captured, as shown on the appended video. Some of the members of the movement joined the Al-Nusra Front. To a considerable extent this was all caused by US policy. When the US coalition bombed the IS in Syria, the US--but not other members of the coalition--also bombed Al-Nusra positions, While they claimed only to be targeting the Khorasan group, they are part and parcel of Al Nusra. All rebel groups were incensed by the attack on Al-Nusra, which had been cooperating with other rebels. Consequent to the bombings, Al-Nusra Front turned on rebel groups funded by the US, first and foremost the Hazzm movement.
No other groups came to the rescue of the Hazzm group, since many disliked the group and saw them as the "favourite son" of the Americans who got everything while other groups got little or nothing. The apparent US solution to the problem of finding moderates to train in a new program is to consider any group not directly affiliated with the Islamic State as moderates. The Nusra front may cooperate by going along with a re-branding exercise being pushed by Qatar and some other Arab states. The Front would cut off any formal ties to Al Qaeda. In return they would receive more funding and perhaps even the blessing of the US as moderate rebels.


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